Saturday, June 3, 2023

At Yale with Nathan Hale


Nathan Hale is remembered today as the quintessential patriot who proclaimed that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country. We don’t actually know for sure if Hale said those words, but we do know that he gave his life on 22 September 1776 when he was hanged as a rebel spy. He was only twenty-one years old and had graduated from Yale College three years earlier. He had been at school through the rise of revolution and conflict, undoubtedly discussing with his erudite peers the events that led to the Declaration of Independence and Hale’s ultimate sacrifice.

Two months after turning fourteen, Nathan began his collegiate life at Yale alongside his brother, Enoch, who was nineteen months his senior. The brothers were close friends and roommates, distinguished by their peers as Primus and Secundus. Even the Yale billing records refer to Nathan as ‘Hale 2.’ The brothers seem to have been rarely separated until after their graduation in 1773.

They shared several friends who also played their part in the American Revolution. Of these young men, Benjamin Tallmadge would eventually become the best known, with the possible exception of Nathan himself. Tallmadge became a highly successful officer and spymaster in the Continental Army, but at Yale he was just another student, if a particularly intelligent and overachieving one. In his memoirs, Tallmadge admitted that his preparation for Yale meant that ‘I had not much occasion to study during the first two years of my collegiate life, which I have always thought had a tendency to make me idle.’ 

One evening in 1771, this idleness led to troublemaking when Tallmadge, the Hale brothers, and some other students broke several windows on campus. One can imagine that Enoch, who was studying to be a minister, must have felt particularly repentant when the bill was sent to their father. Benjamin’s father was also a minister, who might have sent his son a strongly worded reprimand when he was informed of the extra charges.

The boys were not generally troublemakers, however, and a great deal of their free time was spent in intellectual debate as part of the Linonia Society. This fraternity, dedicated to ‘the promotion of friendship and useful knowledge’ gave the young men the opportunity to discuss, debate, and inquire on topics from mathematics and astronomy to religion and philosophy. They undoubtedly had lively talks about the current events of the day and the path to revolution, possibly even discussing Joseph Addison’s Cato from which Nathan’s alleged last words were paraphrased.

In 1771, Nathan served as scribe for the Linonia Society, and his name appears at the end of the surviving meeting minutes. He recorded event participants, questions presented, and topics discussed. One of the items he records is the creation of the society’s library. Since Yale made books available only on-site, the Linonians decided to supply their own library with books that could be checked out by members. The Hale brothers and other members each made contributions of a varied collection of books, including the works of Shakespeare, The Vicar of Wakefield, Rollins Ancient History, Paradise Lost, and The Art of Speaking

When the Hale brothers graduated in 1773, Nathan participated in a debate on the education of women. The transcript of this debate has not survived, but the fact that Nathan later opened lessons to young women at the school he managed gives us insight to the strength of his feelings on this topic. During his brief time as a schoolmaster before entering the army, Nathan taught girls from 5-7am before his male students arrived for the day.

Through his experience at Yale, we can see the development of Nathan Hale into an intelligent, loyal patriot who was willing to sacrifice all, even his life, for his ideals and for his country.

This article was originally published at the blog of Author Salina B Baker as part of the But One Life Blog Tour in June 2022.

Read more about the life of Nathan Hale in But One Life, available on Kindle and in paperback. Read it FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Do You Know Nathan Hale?


When you hear the name Nathan Hale, you may recall words something like, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.’ Perhaps you remember that Hale was relatively young and an obviously poor spy. However, most Americans think of little else besides a vague sense of patriotism when thinking of Nathan Hale.

Nathan was born on 6 June 1755, on a farm in Coventry, Connecticut, approximately in the middle of a brood of a dozen children born to Elizabeth (Strong) and Richard Hale. His closest sibling was his brother, Enoch, who was nineteen months older. These two brothers were tutored by Reverend Joseph Huntington, though not all the Hale children shared their intellectual pursuits.

When it came time to attend Yale College in 1769, Nathan and Enoch went together, sharing a dorm room as they had shared a bedroom at home. The boys’ mother, Elizabeth, had died two years earlier, soon followed by their youngest sister, Susannah. Their father, Richard, remarried Abigail Adams (not THAT one) months before Nathan and Enoch set out for their university education.

At ages fourteen and fifteen, Nathan and Enoch would already have learned their Virgil and Cicero from Reverend Huntington and would have read their New Testament in Greek. While this might have been impressive to their Coventry neighbors, it was the norm for erudite young men entering Yale. In fact, one who became a best friend of Nathan’s was Benjamin Tallmadge, who was so well prepared by his own minister father that he sometimes found himself bored enough to get into trouble.

Alongside Tallmadge, the Hale brothers broke windows on campus one evening, incurring an extra billing that had to be explained to their fathers. However, most of the time the boys were well behaved and hard working. They were members of the Linonia Society, a club for debate, rhetoric, and civil discourse. One can imagine their conversations as the current events of the day were leading down a path to war. Perhaps they discussed the Boston Massacre when it occurred and tried to discern whether it had been a riot or a firing line as they compared varied reports.

They graduated in 1773 shortly before arrival of news of the Tea Act having been passed by parliament. Enoch continued his studies to become a minister, while Nathan took a teaching position. At commencement, Nathan had participated in a debate regarding the education of women. Once he was established at a Latin school in New London, he did more than speak in favor of increased opportunities for females. He offered classes for girls from 5-7am before the boys arrived for the day.

Nathan’s time as a schoolmaster did not last long. When shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, he left his position to become an officer in the New London artillery company. The summer of 1775 was spent drilling and recruiting before marching to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in September. Hale’s surviving army diary and letters reveal his disillusionment with army life and desire to do something that would make a real impact. The soldiers spent most of the winter of 1775-6 battling smallpox, hunger, and cold rather than the British.

During his time in the Continental Army, Nathan participated in a raid that successfully stole a British supply sloop and an attempt to set fire to another. However, most of his time was spent drilling and foraging for food. It was not the glorious experience he had been hoping for, so when the opportunity came to be of notable service, he grasped at it.

His friends and fellow officers did not believe that Nathan was well-suited to espionage. He was friendly, good-looking, and naturally trusting. He was intelligent but not cunning. Nothing they could say could change his mind. Nathan was determined to serve his country by sneaking onto Long Island and discovering the enemy’s next move.

It took only a few days for Nathan to be captured by Major Robert Rogers. He carried incriminating notes taken in Latin and confessed his mission. With little hope of mercy or a prisoner exchange, Nathan spent the night of 21 September 1776 in Beekman’s greenhouse in New York City. The next morning, he was hanged, a trial being deemed unnecessary given the evidence against him.

The last words often attributed to Nathan Hale, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,’ are paraphrased from Cato by Joseph Addison, a play that he likely read and discussed during his time at Yale. The Essex Journal ascribed another Cato paraphrase to Hale, reporting that he said, ‘If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down.’ Whether Nathan said both or neither of these lines, British Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie, who witnessed Hale’s execution, recorded that he ‘behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good officer to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief and desired the spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.’

This article was originally published at Historical Novels R Us on 10 June 2022 as part of the But One Life Blog Tour.

Read Nathan Hale's story in But One Life on Kindle or in paperback. It is FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Failed Spies: Nathan Hale and John Andre


Espionage played an important role during the American Revolution, with both sides in the conflict experiencing some victories and tragic defeats in this area. British spymasters had the advantages of experience and expertise, while Americans benefited from working in their native land with a better idea of who could be trusted and who could not. Very early in the conflict, General George Washington stated his desperate need for knowledge of the enemy. 

‘I do most earnestly entreat you and General Clinton to exert yourselves to accomplish this most desirable end. Leave no stone unturned, nor do not stick at expense, to bring this to pass, as I was never more uneasy than on account of my want of knowledge on this score,’ Washington wrote to General William Heath seventeen days before Captain Nathan Hale was hanged as a rebel spy on 22 September 1776.

Today, Nathan Hale is remembered as the quintessential patriot. He was recently graduated from Yale when he joined the Continental Army with many other young men of his acquaintance. When he learned that a volunteer was needed to discover the information needed by Washington, he did not hesitate, despite the advice of many friends who insisted he was not well-suited to the mission. 

It was not only because of his open, honest personality that they attempted to dissuade him. Spywork was considered a low, dishonorable duty. One friend, who tried to talk Hale out of his mission, reported later that Hale had insisted, ‘I wish to be useful, and every kind of service, necessary to the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary.’

Whether due to pride or excessive patriotism, Hale set forth upon a mission to Long Island, New York, his Yale diploma in hand to support his disguise as a Latin tutor. Hale had briefly served as a schoolmaster between graduation and army service, so his ruse should have come naturally to him. However, he was a trusting and friendly man, unlike the clever spy-catchers employed by the British. Within days of leaving his regiment, Hale was captured and executed, possibly with a paraphrase of Cato on his lips that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country. His body was left hanging for days to warn other would-be spies.

In the meantime, Major John André was making a name for himself in the British ranks as one who had connections and could get information. He was, like Hale, young, erudite, and eager to serve his country. André believed he had found the key to securing his future when he received correspondence from American General Benedict Arnold. The hero of Saratoga was willing to turn his coat for the right price.

Arnold had married Peggy Shippen a month earlier, and she was friends, or possibly more, with André. Together, they convinced the general that the British would show him greater appreciation and compensation, and they were bound to win the war anyway. In the spring of 1780, Arnold informed André that he was expecting to gain command of West Point, an important series of forts that controlled traffic on the Hudson River. He was willing to turn it over to the British in return for cash and a position in British command.

On 21 September 1780, almost precisely four years after the death of Nathan Hale, John André was captured after a secret meeting with General Benedict Arnold to finalize their plan. He begged that Washington treat him as an officer rather than a spy. 

‘Let me hope, Sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me, if aught in my misfortune marks me as the victim of policy and not resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.’ Washington refused his request, and André was hanged on 2 October 1780.

Other American espionage efforts were more successful than Hale’s, most notably the Culper Spy Ring, managed by Hale’s good friend and Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge. The names of those involved in this successful ring were not revealed until over a century after the war had ended. Tallmadge also played a part in John André’s capture. One can imagine he had a sense of justice served as Hale’s British counterpart shared his fate.

This article was originally published at History, the Interesting Bits on 6 June 2022 as part of the But One Life Blog Tour.